Saturday, May 31, 2008

The new number is 2117

According to Democratic Convention Watch, the result of today's decision by the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC), which seated Florida and Michigan's delegates with half a vote each, means that the new magic number of delegates is 2,117. Obama is currently 65 short of that figure; Clinton is 240.5 away.

Plenty of smart folks have been weighing in on the RBC's decision, but one point that seems to be largely overlooked is why the party chose to penalize Michigan and Florida in the first place. Or rather, why anyone ever punishes anyone. Some punishments are surely for revenge, but this doesn't strike me as that sort of situation. The point of this punishment was deterrence. The party (both parties, actually) were protecting Iowa and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status and the general order of things as it has emerged over the past four decades. Whether that order is worth protecting is besides the point; the national parties have the right to establish a system and members of those parties, should they have problems with the system, have plenty of avenues to change it or protest it. Michigan and Florida chose to gamble. They wanted to go earlier than the national parties wanted them to, knowing full well they could face a serious sanction for doing so.

So why did the national parties punish them? To deter other states from following their path. Imagine that the Democratic Party had decided to fully reinstate those states' delegates based on the vote allocation from January, as the Clinton campaign had urged. What would deter other states in 2012 from doing the exact same thing that Michigan and Florida did this year? Nothing. A lot of noise, but ultimately, no penalty. 2012 would be chaos. State after state would leapfrog earlier and earlier, and the first primary of 2012 would be next month. Okay, maybe some chaos wouldn't be the worse thing to hit this system, but the national parties certainly have the right to deter such chaos.

Meanwhile, Hillary should be proud of the sorts of voters she's mobilized this year:

As the votes on the agreements were taken, one woman, wearing a blue “Team Hillary” shirt, shoved a man in a suit and tie wearing a small Obama button on his lapel. Another woman in a white Clinton shirt hung her head in her hands.

“That was a crime!” a man shouted.

“McCain in 08! McCain in 08!” a woman yelled from the back of the room. “No-bama! No-bama!”

McCain in 08. There's a good Democrat for ya.


Today's Rocky Mountain News has some entertaining stories and photos from the 1908 Democratic National Convention, which was held, of course, in Denver. One curious story was that among the convention attendees was Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of Republican President Teddy Roosevelt and the future wife of Rep. Nicholas Longworth (R-OH). Alice apparently came as a guest of William Jennings Bryan's daughter, Ruth. The Rocky correctly notes that this would be much like Jenna Bush attending this year's Democratic convention as a guest of Chelsea Clinton. Weird.

Another thing I found odd was this photo of Bryan (left), taken outside the Denver Democratic Club. He's dressed a wee bit warm for Denver in July, isn't he? Shouldn't that have tipped people off that there was something wrong with the prospective nominee? No? Okay, how about his previous two general election losses? Still no?

Okay, how about his uncanny resemblance to Denver madame Mattie Silks, operator of the brothel at 20th and Market streets?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don't ask, don't tell.

More on the Obama caucus advantage

Idaho had a primary on Tuesday, mostly to nominate some people for down-ballot races. But Obama and Clinton were on the ballot, as well. Obama bested Clinton there 56-38, which is a pretty resounding win, unless you note that he beat her 80-17 in the February 5th caucus, at which delegates were assigned.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I'm guessing that Clinton will win in Puerto Rico this weekend, but Obama will probably take Montana and South Dakota next Tuesday. Just making some blind guesses about the percentages using Slate's delegate calculator, I see Obama picking up around 35 delegates between these three contests. As of today, he's only 45 short of a majority. This may be over soon.

I recognize, of course, that this math may change later this week, depending on how the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee rules on Michigan and Florida. But it still seems like the end is in sight.

CO Dem party chair endorses Obama

So much for neutrality. Pat Waak's move should rankle roughly a third of the state delegation. This rather changes the tenor of Saturday's meeting.

Whither Arnie?

When did Schwarzenegger's approval rating drop to 37%? What happened?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Intraparty Democracy

"The discovery that a few men, often acutely conscious of their lack of public influence, can by the use of the caucus technique and a little cool calculation acquire a wonder-working efficacy in town meetings and parliaments has never ceased to amaze and fascinate people."
-E.E. Schattschneider, Party Government

This post may sound like a slam on Hillary Clinton's supporters. It's really not. If anything, I sympathize with their position, and I imagine I'd be acting similarly were the roles reversed. I rather admire their level of organization.

At any rate, this past weekend saw the first meeting of the Colorado delegation to the Democratic National Convention. I had assumed it would just be a get-to-know-each-other session with a little Q&A, but it turned out that we had actual business to attend to. We needed to select a chair and vice-chair of our delegation.

Traditionally, the state party chair (currently Pat Waak) serves as the delegation chair, so we just gave her that job. She's officially uncommitted between Obama and Clinton, so this was not a controversial decision. (She's said that she has a preference but doesn't want to publicly endorse because, as chair of the host state party, she doesn't want either candidate or his/her supporters to feel like they're not getting a fair hearing. I respect that.) However, then we needed to pick a vice-chair, someone who theoretically would be in charge of our delegation if Waak is unavailable, which she may be at various points during the convention.

At this point, the room quickly polarized into Clinton and Obama factions, with the Obama delegates outnumbering the Clinton delegates by about 2 to 1. The Clinton people pulled a disappearing quorum and left the room, leaving each side to caucus privately.* When they came back in, Waak, sensing the tension, suggested that we pick Sen. Salazar or Gov. Ritter, both of whom are uncommitted, as a vice-chair. However, a delegate argued that those of us in the room had worked very hard to get there, and the vice-chair should really come from our ranks. This sentiment was widely shared. So it was clearly going to be either an Obama person or a Clinton person, and the Obama people had the votes.

A Clinton supporter took to the floor and said that we needed to come up with a solution that served our whole state delegation and not just a simple majority of those of us in the room. He then said that if the Clinton people were not satisfied with the outcome, they would walk out and permanently deprive the meeting of a quorum, and they would tell the media that they'd been railroaded. Several Obama delegates shouted "Blackmail!" at this point.

At any rate, a vote was held. Several people offered their names for vice-chair. The votes concentrated around one Clinton person and one Obama person. The Obama person won. The Clinton delegates stood up to leave. At this point, an Obama delegate stood up and suggested that we appoint a Clinton supporter as an "honorary co-chair" who would not have formal power but would be part of the leadership triumvirate. This was apparently enough to keep the Clinton people in the room. The motion passed and the rest of the meeting went on without incident.

I took the meeting as a bit of foreshadowing should we go to the actual convention without a presumptive nominee. I certainly don't blame the Clinton folks for the tension -- they were in the minority and used what few tools they had to keep from getting railroaded. I'm sure I'd have done them same thing in their shoes, or at least supported doing so. But it was a real eye opener. I can only imagine how much more tense such meetings are in states that saw closer votes.

UPDATE: I should have noted that a Clinton delegate floated the idea that we have two vice chairs, one from the Obama camp and one from the Clinton camp. This proposal was rejected largely along "party" lines, although I believe a few Obama people supported it. There were two major objections: 1) How would decisions be made if there were two people who disagreed with each other who were in charge?; 2) Why should the Obama people concede to equal standing with the Clinton people if the former outnumber the latter 2 to 1?

*I remain curious as to whether the Clinton delegates had coordinated their efforts prior to the meeting or had received guidance from the state Clinton campaign. It had the appearance of a spontaneous caucus, but it's hard to know. The Obama people, as far as I know, did no organizing prior to the meeting.

The party deciding over time

I found this article in today's Denver Post particularly interesting. It describes the simultaneous evolution of both Mark Udall and the state of Colorado. In 2004, when Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell decided to retire, Udall immediately threw his hat in the ring. Top state Democrats thought Udall was too liberal to win, so they pressured him out of the race and recruited the more moderate Ken Salazar to run.

This year, with another open Senate race, Colorado Democrats think that Udall could actually win. Not only has the state become bluer, but Udall has shored up his moderate credentials with a stint on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, even though his House district contains no military bases. So the party cleared a path for him and assured him the nomination.

Interesting to see a party moving toward its ideological extreme as it becomes more confident in its position.

Bill Laimbeer was a Sleestak

Who knew?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Out of the closet

As of this post, I am officially outing myself. That is to say, I am no longer using a pseudonym. This is partially because most of my loyal readers (both of you) already know who I am anyway. It is also because I am now, in some sense, an elected official. Two weeks ago, I was elected by Democratic residents of Colorado's first congressional district to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. I will be blogging about that convention and many of the events leading up to it, and in the spirit of transparency and intellectual honesty, I feel I should be pinning my name to these posts.

The spirit of Enik will live on at this site, however, and the blog will continue to bear his name. Who is Enik, you ask? Enik was a recurring character on "Land of the Lost," one of the cheapest sci-fi shows ever produced. He was part of (actually an ancestor to) a race of lizard-people known as the Sleestaks. The Sleestaks were terribly stupid and warlike, and mostly just hissed at each other. Enik, however, stood out from the others due to his intelligence, his dour outlook, his ability to speak English, and his vest. I was always inspired by his insistence upon reason, eloquence, and a code of honor when his peer group and even his own reptilian brain called for senseless violence and hissing.

In "The Last Temptation of Christ," Nikos Kazantzakis describes a prophet as one who laughs while others are crying and cries while others laugh. To me, Enik represents such an individual.

May his noble spirit always guide this blog.

Art imitates life imitates art...

Okay, so there are some similarities between Barack Obama's real-life candidacy and Matt Santos' fictitious candidacy on "West Wing." But that's not a coincidence. We now learn that Santos' character was actually based on Obama. "West Wing" contributor Eli Attie wrote the Santos character after discussions with his friend David Axelrod, now chief strategist for the Obama campaign. Axelrod promoted Obama to Attie, inspired, in particular, by Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. According to Peter Funt,
Even though Obama had not yet won his Senate seat, Axelrod was promoting him as "handsome, appealing, articulate" -- a politician who could find new paths to solve old problems; a minority candidate who could show pride in his race without allowing it to define him. That's what Matt Santos became.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Endangered black politicians?

In the NYT's politics blog, Katharine Seeyle says that Hillary Clinton's RFK reference was particularly bad because of the racial component of this election:
[O]n Friday, she made a reference to Bobby Kennedy’s assassination — a terrible choice of phrase in a presidential campaign that features an African-American candidate.
Was RFK black? Did I miss that? Just to be sure we got her point, she mentions it again:
[S]he used an eye-popping word in the context of a presidential campaign with a black candidate.
Okay, I just looked it up, and I'm reasonably sure Bobby Kennedy was white. So why the reference? Is there reason to believe that African American politicians are more prone to assassination than white politicians? That would certainly be an interesting finding, but is it true? Why is it just being assumed? Robert Farley addresses this issue with appropriate snark:
Every single President who has been assassinated in the history of the United States has been a white male. Every. Single. One. In fact, I have it on good authority that every single attempted assassination has been directed against a white male President. If history is any guide, Obama should be safe.

...indeed, with an assassination rate exceeding 9%, President of the United States would appear to be an extraordinarily dangerous job for white men. It would almost be irresponsible to elect someone other than a woman or non-white man.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From caucus to convention

The results of Colorado's state and congressional district conventions are finally in. So now we can see if Clinton's post-caucus strategy has paid off.

Recall that, back on caucus night, Obama received 67.3% of the Obama + Clinton vote. Colorado has now picked the 48 pledged delegates (36 district, 12 at-large) it will be sending to the Democratic convention. If we just predicted the delegate share from the caucus vote, we would expect that Obama would have 32 of those 48 delegates (67.3% of 48). In fact, he has 31.

This could all just be due to rounding errors and chance variation, but let's just say for a moment that it was due to post-caucus organizing by Clinton. I don't know how much money her campaign has spent on Colorado since February 5th, but it looked like pretty impressive organization. Very extensive signage, very fired-up supporters. And this was at the county convention, the state convention, and all seven district conventions. And all this managed to do was flip exactly one delegate going to the DNC.

I can't help thinking that this wasn't a great use of resources, particularly when you compare it to how much good those resources might have done her before February 5th.

Meanwhile, if you include the alternates in the delegate math, it looks like a gain for Obama. Of the nine alternates that will be going to the national convention, all of them are Obama supporters. That means that if a Hillary delegate gets sick or something, she'll be replaced by an Obama supporter. So if you add those nine alternates to the 48 delegates, Obama has 40 of them, or 70.2%.

Sound and fury... signifying nothing...

I'll have more to say on this soon. There are some interesting county-level variations in delegate gains by the two candidates, but I haven't had time to crunch all the numbers yet.

Question time for the public?

So PM Gordon Brown is starting a YouTube Question Time for the British public.

I can only assume that the next president will feel compelled to set up something similar. I'd sure hate to be the White House staffer who had to sift through the public responses.

So stupid it's brilliant?

It's been noted here and many other places that Hillary Clinton's supporters are making increasingly irresponsible and asinine arguments as to why she should be the Democratic nominee. The latest came from Terry McAuliffe last night. As Josh Marshall summarizes McAuliffe's argument:

1. Hillary has gotten more votes and delegates since March 4th.

2. Hillary has gotten more votes in a nomination race than anyone in history. "Hillary Clinton has now received more votes than any candidate ever running for president in a primary."

These arguments are, of course, absurdly easy to refute. But that's not the point. I doubt that people like McAuliffe and Lanny Davis actually believe the crap they're dishing out, but they're making these arguments for a reason beyond just firing up Clinton's supporters. They're trying to show just how tough Hillary is.

During the 2000 Florida recount, Republicans, largely led by James Baker, made all sorts of ridiculous arguments to justify two things which were thought to be unjustifiable: that votes in a close election should not be recounted, and, in contradiction of the U.S. Constitution, that a state should not get to decide how its electors are determined. And Democratic opinion-makers would largely sit there with their jaws on the floor and say, "That's a stupid argument. You can't say that." But that didn't stop the Republicans, who figured that if they won, the presidency would provide its own legitimacy, and if they lost, no one would remember or care what they'd said. And they were largely right.

Team Hillary is trying to show that they're just as tough as the Republicans. There's no argument too irresponsible or too stupid to make. Winning is everything. And there's a fair chunk of superdelegates who find this argument compelling, especially if the 2000 election is at the back of their minds.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cable cars? Dim sum? Willie Brown?

"San Francisco values" is one of those great political phrases that apparently never needs to be defined to be employed effectively. Presumably, it scares the bejeezus out of midwestern white voters, so Republicans use it promiscuously in attack ads.

Here's just such an ad, put together for U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) as an attack on challenger Kay Barnes, the Democratic mayor of Kansas City. This, I'm pretty sure, is what Missouri Republicans think San Francisco looks like:

It would have been a lot of fun to be an actor in this ad. The image of the black guy in the cowboy hat "dancing" with two women to a low-grade disco beat has to be one of the least San Francisco things I've ever seen. It looks more like the Thompson Twins teaching lambada at a retirement home in the late 80s.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Getting weird in Nebraska

You may not have noticed it, but Nebraska held a Democratic primary last Tuesday, the same day that West Virginians held theirs. Obama beat Clinton in Nebraska 49-47, with Mike Gravel (who this week is attending the Libertarian convention in Denver with hopes of becoming that party's nominee) picking up the remaining 4%.

Why didn't this get much press? Because it literally meant nothing. Nebraska assigned its pledged delegates during its caucus on February 9th -- Obama beat Clinton 68-32 in that contest. Last week's Nebraska primary was merely an advisory primary, offering suggestions to the state's superdelegates. Despite having almost no meaning, roughly 90,000 Nebraskans participated in it. (Incidentally, that's about 20,000 more Nebraskans than participated in the state's Democratic primary in 2004, which actually did determine delegate shares.)

The deeper we get into this nomination process, the weirder it looks. Yet it almost develops its own self-justifying logic. You begin to say, "Of course it makes sense for a state to hold a non-binding primary three months after its caucus! Duh!"


Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money has a wonderful review of "Red Dawn." The review, and some of the better comments, does a nice job of exploring the strange genius of writer/director John Milius. Even though the script is, at many junctures, just a recitation of right wing talking points, Milius has clearly got some talents as a director, as evidenced by the scary scene in which a Soviet Mi-24 "Hind" helicopter pumps some daylight into C. Thomas Howell. One of the commenters informs us that Milius wrote Quint's monologue in "Jaws" about the U.S.S. Indianapolis -- one of the best scenes in that film -- but also suggested the modern-day bookends in "Saving Private Ryan" when Ryan asks his wife if he's been a good man -- undoubtedly the worst scenes in that movie.

One of the better observations about "Red Dawn," however, is that it's actually a pretty good piece of agit-prop. When asked why the kids are fighting and what makes them morally superior to the Soviet invaders, Patrick Swayze's character answers, "We live here." It wouldn't take too much editing to remake this movie as a recruiting tool for Iraqi insurgents today.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Colorado State Democratic Convention

I attended the state Democratic convention in Colorado Springs on Saturday as a delegate. One thing that impressed me is that they actually managed to start on time, unlike most of the previous conventions I've attended this year. They seemed to accomplish this feat by seating alternates throughout the day, rather than attempting to seat alternates before conducting business. This decision definitely had its detractors -- there was one very angry man who kept shouting that they had to stop business until everyone who could be seated had been seated -- but it did allow the convention to end before midnight.

Consistent with the county and congressional district conventions I've attended, the Hillary people were clearly out in force. All the entrances to the World Arena were covered with Hillary signs, and there were drummers by the entrance chanting her name. (No, those are not the sorts of people I associate with the Clinton campaign.) So far, this sort of post-caucus organizing by the Clinton folks hasn't amounted to much, although I currently have my students examining this question. There seemed to be more Clinton signs than Obama signs at the Denver County convention and at the CD1 convention, but Obama still outpolled her 2-1 at both conventions. I'm curious how she did at the state convention -- the results still aren't up yet. My impression of the Clinton strategy is that it's too little, too late, although it was the Denver Post's impression yesterday that Clinton supporters made up "close to half of the conventioneers." That would actually be quite an impressive coup. We'll see.

I'm pretty sure the residents of Colorado Springs saw the convention as an opportunity to kill off 10,000 of the state's most active Democrats, which was why we weren't allowed to bring our own food in and why we were forced to choose from some of the least healthful menus I've ever seen. I ended up eating a $5 bratwurst because it was literally the most healthful thing I could find. Not kidding.

I rather enjoyed the music played at the convention. The opening music was a repeating playlist consisting of exactly two songs -- John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" and Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" -- which I suppose are the only two popular songs that portray Colorado somewhat positively. Then they did intro music for all the speakers. Governor Ritter got the "Superman" theme, which was kinda funny, and Ed Perlmutter got "Rocky." Then, after Mark Udall's name was placed up for nomination for the U.S. Senate seat by roughly a dozen people, they played some song called "Change the World" on a loop for about 15 God damned minutes while Udall worked the floor on his way to the dais. Hey, I like Udall as much as the next guy, and I think he's got a good shot for the Senate seat, but this coronation really seemed overdone. I mean, he's not Jesus, or Obama.

Our last activity for the day was voting -- we received a half-inch thick ballot so we could elect members of the DNC, two presidential electors, and 14 at-large national convention delegates. There were, I kid you not, over 1,500 candidates for those 14 seats. I didn't actually see all that many people campaigning for the posts over the course of the day. I'd really like to get the data on this election. The votes must be incredibly dispersed. Anyway, I couldn't even fill out all 14 names. I just voted for some people I knew, and then for some guy named Seth Harris. How could I not?

I dropped off my ballot and was actually out the door by 4pm, which surprised me. Now I'm just waiting for the results, and for that damned Udall song to get out of my head.

Hillary and Barack's Astrology Charts

I saw this chart in a men's room at the Mercury Cafe. I can't really read these charts, but maybe one of you can. If you use them to predict future elections, I'm sure you won't do any worse than I've done.

Driving against type

Somehow I'd missed this one. Tom Tancredo drives a Prius.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Garden State Benediction

From Bruce Springsteen's speech at his induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, May 4, 2008:

Rise up my fellow New Jerseyans, for we are all members of a confused but noble race. We, of the state that will never get any respect. We, who bear the coolness of the forever uncool. The chip on our shoulders of those with forever something to prove....

This is not our curse. It is our blessing. For this is what imbues us with our fighting spirit. That we may salute the world forever with the Jersey state bird, and that the fumes from our great northern industrial area to the ocean breezes of Cape May fill us with the raw hunger, the naked ambition and the desire not just to do our best, but to stick it in your face. Theory of relativity anybody? How about some electric light with your day? Or maybe a spin to the moon and back? And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know, when the announcer says "and now in this corner, from New Jersey...." they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we're coming out swinging.

Edwards for AG?

From Steam Powered Opinions:
Placing a man of John Edwards competency, moral clarity and passion for social justice at the head of the Department of Justice would go a long way towards repairing the damage of the Bush administration.
Word up.

And yeah, this photo feels good:

On the limits of ancestry predicting voting

I'm not sold on the idea that we can predict voting behavior by studying ancestry. It certainly has some predictive value, but a review of recent presidential elections doesn't fill me with confidence.

First of all, it's not totally clear why Appalachians would prefer a Clinton to an Obama. Is it simply race? Tilove says no:
With his Harvard pedigree, mellifluous voice and high-minded talk of moving beyond the politics of confrontation, [Obama] is totally out of place in Appalachia. It's like casting Hugh Grant instead of Mel Gibson as William Wallace in "Braveheart.''
Okay, so the Scots-Irish of Appalachia don't necessarily vote on bloodline; they're also looking for someone who epitomizes their values: tough, plain-spoken, independent, pugnacious, etc. But if that's the case, why did John Kennedy beat Humbert Humphrey by 21 points in the 1960 West Virginia primary? Not only was Kennedy a Catholic (a real outsider in Appalachia), but he totally matches the description of Obama above.

A review of the last 12 presidential elections in West Virginia doesn't help much, either.
  • 1960 - JFK beats Nixon (JFK was an Irish Catholic Brahmin. Nixon was a scrappy, lower caste fighter with Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry. I don't get this case.)
  • 1964 - LBJ beats Goldwater (This one more or less works. Everyone thought Goldwater was nuts.)
  • 1968 - Humphrey beats Nixon (Again, why not Tricky Dick?)
  • 1972 - Nixon beats McGovern (McGovern was a commie, but he had the Scottish name!)
  • 1976 - Carter beats Ford (Some of Appalachia runs through Georgia, so maybe Carter could appeal.)
  • 1980 - Carter beats Reagan (The Carter appeal stuck, but Reagan had Scottish ancestry, and was certainly the more pugnacious and less intellectual of the two. What's up?)
  • 1984 - Reagan beats Mondale (No shock.)
  • 1988 - Dukakis beats Bush (So the Appalachians beat back an English blueblood... with a Greek?)
  • 1992 - Clinton beats Bush (Clinton is of Scots-Irish ancestry and can mix it up.)
  • 1996 - Clinton beats Dole (See above, although Dole was a plain-spoken war vet.)
  • 2000 - Bush beats Gore (Both English bluebloods, but Bush does a better Scots-Irish impersonation)
  • 2004 - Bush beats Kerry (Kerry has English and Eastern European heritage. Again, Bush does the better Scots-Irish impersonation.)
Now, we can't expect genealogy to predict elections perfectly. It's a multivariate world, not to mention a stochastic one. One of the interesting things about West Virginia is its secular shift from solidly Democratic to marginally Republican over time. Poor whites in labor unions used to exclusively vote Democratic; today they may vote Republican for cultural reasons. So party is having an influence here independent of genealogy. Campaign effects might exist, too. (I once heard an account, by someone in a position to know, that Joe Kennedy, Sr., bought every county Democratic chairman in West Virginia a new Cadillac prior to the 1960 primary.)

Still, the heritage explanation only seems to predict the election in about half of the above cases, by my count, which is no better than random chance. So I'm not totally sold on this. Maybe it works better in primaries.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mountains. Seen one, seen 'em all.

Bob Schaffer, the Republican candidate for Colorado's open U.S. Senate seat, released his first ad today. Quite a doozy. It's your basic introductory ad. He tells the viewer all about his family and their ties to Colorado. He mentions that he proposed to his wife atop Pike's Peak. Nice story. Unfortunately, the ad shows a picture of Mt. McKinley. Which is in Alaska. Whoops.

Gut rationality, man. You don't order a Kosher hot dog with milk in New York City, you don't order a cheesesteak with provolone in Philly, and you don't mix up your mountains in Colorado. Sheesh.

Another article on Obama and Appalachia

This from Jonathan Tilove, by way of TPM. Pretty interesting. To wit:

For those keeping score, seven of the 10 whitest states in the nation have held their primaries or caucuses. The Illinois senator has won five and the New York senator two — New Hampshire by an inch and now West Virginia by a country mile. Stretch it to the 20 whitest states and the tally is 12 for Obama and five for Clinton, with three to go.


"She's won the Appalachian region of every state contested,'' wrote Dana Houle, who in his postings on Daily Kos has dissected how Obama's difficulty in Appalachia does not necessarily translate into a broader or more permanent problem with white voters.

"No, Obama doesn't have a racial problem,'' Houle concluded. "It appears that Appalachia has an Obama problem.''

I'm curious how much this translates into a general election vulnerability. Democrats haven't won West Virginia since 1996. They can certainly win the White House without it. But to the extent that Appalachian voters can't stand Obama and are drawn to the Scots-Irish John McCain, that pulls western PA and eastern OH into the red column. Something to think about.

I can see why Tilove brings up the idea of Jim Webb as a vice presidential candidate. Not a bad idea.

The Godfather and International Relations

Via Monkey Cage, a highly recommended article about the three different IR paradigms represented by Tom Hagen, Sonny Corleone, and Michael Corleone.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Is it all demographics?

As some of my previous posts about the Indiana and Pennsylvania primaries suggested, a lot of voter behavior in primaries is easily predictable from previous primaries. If you know the demographic composition of a state and how those demographic groups have been voting in previous primaries, there just aren't that many surprises.

Now Josh Marshall has posted an excellent short essay showing how Clinton's blowout victory in West Virginia tonight -- along with her big wins in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio -- can be explained by Appalachia. This region, extending from upstate New York to northern Alabama, is largely populated by the descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants who were as vehemently anti-slave as they were anti-slavery. Today, the Appalachian region tends to be poorer, older, less educated, and whiter than surrounding areas, and for demographic and cultural reasons is highly likely to prefer Clinton to Obama.

I was discussing this with a colleague, who pointed out to me that the Scots-Irish have spread out from Appalachia over time into places like the Ozarks of Missouri and southeastern Colorado. Check out the caucus night results in Colorado:Although Obama won the state 2-1, Clinton won in the southeastern counties, where the Scots-Irish settled.

This strikes me as an under-reported phenomenon in elections. The media focus a lot on momentum and other campaign effects. After Pennsylvania, Obama was expected to not do well in Indiana because Clinton had momentum and because Obama had a spate of tough press associated with Jeremiah Wright. When he did better than expected, it was assumed he did so because he's "tough" or had somehow blunted the attacks. Or just maybe it was because Indiana is not part of Appalachia.

Just how much of these state-to-state variations (or, really, county-to-county variations) can be explained by the ethnic compositions of the local populations? If we measure this stuff right, is there any sort of campaign effect left?

Snow on May 13th?

God is trying to kill my tomatoes again.

Monday, May 12, 2008


ZOMG, I just got elected as a national convention delegate. Now, how to retain my objectivity as a scholar...

Why the superdelegates drag their feet

I hear a lot of frustration about the fact that many superdelegates are still staying publicly neutral. Many of Colorado's superdelegates, including Mark Udall and the brothers Salazar, are remaining uncommitted for the time being. All this despite Howard Dean's demands that superdelegates "decide now!", which sounds increasingly like my dad yelling from the driver's seat, "You kids quit fighting or so help me I will turn this car around!"

So why aren't they pledging? The main reason is that the superdelegates do not think as a unit. They could end this nomination today if they decided as a group, but they are individuals, and no one individual can end this today.

Moreover, they are individuals with their own needs and agenda. Many of them are members of Congress, nearly all of whom are running for reelection this year. If they're running, they need money from loyal party donors. As soon as they pledge to one candidate, they piss off half the party. Why do that before you have to if it just makes it harder to raise money?

Also, as soon as you declare for a presidential candidate, you become a lot less interesting. I imagine quite a few of these superdelegates are enjoying the attention they're receiving from the Clinton and Obama folks. Life gets a lot quieter after they make the call.

Finally, there's always the chance they could make the wrong call. There's still a few weeks of elections left. There's not likely to be any radical disclosures in that time, but it's always possible that Obama will turn out to be a gay communist or Hillary will turn out to be a reptile sent to this planet to drain our water, so why make the call before you have to?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

DeGette may flip to Obama?

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) promised she "won't overturn the will of the people" with regards to her vote at the Democratic convention. Not totally sure what she means, but she's long been pledged to Hillary, and her district went 2-1 for Obama.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Okay, let's try bigotry

Hillary Clinton:
"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."
This quote has been all over the blogosphere today, but I just thought I'd throw it up here for the hell of it. I can't think of another way to interpret it other than, "Obama has more supporters, but my supporters are whiter, so I should get the nomination." Am I missing something?

Vox populi?

Would the superdelegates actually pick Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama? Ross Douthat says no. His argument is that, while Americans might have been okay with party elites picking a candidate at a convention a few years ago, they would find this unacceptable today. (This argument totally ignores what happened in 1968, but whatever.) In Douthat's words,
When you listen to analysts and politicians talk about the primary process, there's a clear consensus that the spectacle of a convention in which superdelegates "overturn what's happened in the elections," as Nancy Pelosi famously put it, would be disastrous for the Democratic Party. And Pelosi's choice of the word "overturn" tells you why: It implicitly makes the will of the people, however imperfectly and haphazardly expressed (an open primary here, a closed primary there, a caucus elsewhere), the arbiter of legitimacy, and consigns to the dustbin of history the old idea that the convention is an integral part of the candidate-selection process, and that party leaders should have as much of a say in who gets to be their standard-bearer as primary voters and caucusgoers.
Call me nuts, but didn't we pick a president a few years back based on some arcane feature of the Constitution that explicitly ignored the will of the people? And while people regularly call him a bad president, he's rarely called illegitimate anymore. Seems like our country can actually handle a little anti-democracy once in a while.

If you think the universe sucks now...

I was sitting in my doctor's office this morning, waiting for a confirmation of my strep throat (which I got), reading the March issue of Scientific American. I learned something there that I did not know. Astronomers living in the very distant future will likely have very different beliefs about the cosmos than we do today.

Apparently, the galaxies and clusters in our local supergroup (which includes the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy) are slowly being drawn together by gravity and will eventually collide to form a supergalaxy. Meanwhile, the galaxies outside this local group are moving away from us at a high rate of speed. (This is, of course, relative -- a resident of one of those galaxies would perceive us as moving away at the same rate.) In, say, 100 billion years, those other galaxies will be imperceptible from Earth. They will have moved too far away, and their radiation signature will have red-shifted, I think, to the point that they are indistinguishable from background radiation. So an astronomer living 100 billion years from now will only know of one giant supergalaxy sitting amidst a cosmic void. They'll truly think that their galaxy is the center of the universe and is the only thing out there. Unless we can preserve some information for them, which I kinda doubt we can do.

Oh, and about 10 trillion years from now, our supergalaxy will collapse into a giant black hole. You don't want to be around then.

Of course, Earth will likely only last another 5 billion years (maybe less if McCain is elected), at which point the sun will burn out. So this is all academic. But I still found it a bit bleak.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

From Pennsylvania to Indiana

I made another graph, similar to the one comparing the Ohio and Pennsylvania votes, comparing Pennsylvania and Indiana. The line is x=y, meaning that if a point falls on the line, Obama did exactly the same among the demographic group in Pennsylvania as he did two weeks later in Indiana.
As the graph shows, Obama did considerably better in the latter primary among almost all these demographic groups. In theory, the ones most likely to be receptive to Hillary Clinton's gas tax holiday were the low info voters and the poorer voters. Yet Obama substantially improved his stance among those with just a high school education and among those making less than $15K annually. He lost a little ground among the elderly and white Protestants, but not by much.


I may have to use this one in my film and politics class next year.

Hear hear!

From Hilzoy:
First thought: it's worth taking a step back and noticing that the gas tax pander didn't work. At least, it's hard for me to believe that Obama would have come as close as he did to winning Indiana in the face of the flap over Rev. Wright, the possible involvement of Limbaugh Republicans, and so on, if the idea of a gas tax holiday had really caught on.

Senator Clinton gambled on the stupidity of the voters, and she lost. That is truly worth celebrating.

Clinton's really dumb argument

I have to admit that I'm starting to get used to CNN's panel discussions on election nights -- I'm even beginning to enjoy it. And I really, really want John King's giant computer display. But the main thing I'm enjoying about it is hearing the spin from candidates' supporters. It is quite inspiring to see Clinton's supporters attaching themselves to the most tenuous of reeds, some no thicker than a human hair.

But Lanny Davis, a stalwart Clinton backer, pushed it a bit too far last night. First, he basically said that these contests don't matter at this point, and that Hillary should get the nomination because she's currently polling better against McCain in some of the key swing states. David Gergen nicely slapped Davis down for that one:

When you have two candidates who have fought with each other the way they have, and one candidate, at the end of the day, comes out 600,000 votes ahead of the other candidate, and comes out substantially ahead in pledged delegates, are we then to sort of throw that out, and say, well, that's irrelevant; the only thing that is relevant is the latest Gallup poll? I mean, is that the -- is that the standard by which the parties play?

Or, as another panelist asked, what's the point of having primaries at all?

But then Davis came back with a more reprehensible argument: that the only reason Obama is ahead in delegates is because he's keeping Michigan and Florida from voting:

Michigan and Florida are in play because Senator Obama prevented the revote. That is a fact. There would have been a mail or a firehouse primary in Michigan or in Florida if the Obama campaign had gone arm and arm with the Clinton campaign, which invited them to do so, raised the money, and let Florida and Michigan vote again, if they had any objections to having them be seated in Florida.... The Clinton campaign was willing to have a revote in Florida and Michigan.

This is an irresponsible argument for a number of reasons. First of all, as Gergen noted, it's wrong:

I think it's been unfair to Hillary Clinton that Florida and Michigan did not vote properly. I think that she would have done well, and I think we might be sitting here tonight with her ahead in actual vote tallied. I think there's a very good argument to that effect. But it's Michigan and Florida who screwed this up, not Barack Obama. And I do not understand why he would now -- and I hope this is -- if the Clinton people now plan to run a campaign saying Barack Obama is responsible for the fact that you're not having a chance to vote in Michigan and Florida, they are going to make this a much, much rougher campaign.

Second, as Gergen suggested, Obama has all but sewn this thing up. If Clinton goes down claiming that she only lost because Obama prevented Michigan and Florida -- two key general election states -- from voting, that's a good way of saying, "If I can't win, no Democrat can." She's trying to demoralize Michigan and Florida Democrats and turn them against the very likely nominee. It's one thing to advocate for your candidate; it's quite another to try to turn the general electorate against the other candidate in your party.

Finally, by making these arguments about how Clinton would be the nominee if Michigan and Florida counted, if Democratic contests were winner-take-all, if we were basing this on popular vote or springtime matchup polls, etc., her team keeps pointing out how they completely failed to win under the current nominating system. Or, as Jamal Simmons said last night, "Well, you know what? If my aunt had a male appendage, she would be my uncle."

These arguments just evoke an image of Hillary Clinton giving a press conference on November 5th saying, "If we had the Canadian system of electing leaders, I'd be the president-elect today, instead of John McCain."

The Democratic rules for nominating presidential candidates have been public and transparent for decades. You blew it, Hillary. Face it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Proud professor

Several of my students are running for student government positions this week. A few of them have even produced short campaign ads, which is way beyond anything we dreamed of when I ran for student government two decades ago.

Here's one that nicely parodies Hillary Clinton's "3AM" ad, and then gets weird:

And this one offers a fresh take on the "New Haircut" video:

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fitting the data to the story

John Sides* cites this NYT story describing Obama's "diminished aura of inevitability" in the wake of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright "scandal." The media really seem desperate to find some sort of Wright effect, even when there isn't one, at least not yet. As the Times writes,
[T]he survey found that Mr. Obama, whose lead in the race for the delegates needed to secure the nomination has given him a commanding position over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton since February, is now perceived to be in a much tighter fight. Fifty-one percent of Democratic voters say they expect Mr. Obama to win their party’s nomination, down from 69 percent a month ago. Forty-eight percent of Democrats say Mr. Obama is the candidate with the best chance of beating Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, down from 56 percent a month ago.

Mr. Obama still holds an edge over Mrs. Clinton on several key measures; for example, 46 percent of the Democratic primary voters say he remains their choice for the nomination, while 38 percent preferred Mrs. Clinton, who has lost support among men in recent weeks. On that question, his margin actually grew, to eight from three points, over the past month.

Mr. Obama also has an advantage over Mrs. Clinton in ratings on honesty and integrity, in sharing the values of most Americans and in being less beholden to special interest groups. [Emphasis added.]

I would say that the percent of Democrats who support Obama versus Clinton is the key measure, and it is trending in Obama's favor in this poll. The only "damage" that has been done to Obama is that fewer Democrats think he will become the nominee, even though the same percentage still supports him. That's a pretty interesting media effect -- the plurality of Democrats still back him, but they (incorrectly) assume that others are no longer doing so.

*I recognize that I am linking to a Sides post that links to me. Please pardon the circle jerk.